The US Record For The Worst Commercial Air Disaster Was Broken Twice In 24 Hours In 1947
Air incidents were certainly more common in the mid-20th century than they are now. Two crashes with US airlines in 1947 stand out, though. These both involved Douglas DC-4 aircraft. United Airlines Flight 521 crashed on May 29th, killing 43 of the 48 people onboard. It became the worst crash in the US to date, but a crash the following day proved even worse. Eastern Air Lines Flight 605 crashed on May 30th, killing all 53 people onboard.
United Airlines Flight 521
United Airlines Flight 521 on May 29th 1947 was a scheduled flight from La Guardia, New York, to Cleveland, Ohio. It crashed on takeoff from La Guardia, with the Douglas DC-4 aircraft failing to leave the runway. It overran the runway and crashed into an embankment, and caught fire. Some people managed to escape the burning aircraft, with 44 of the 48 people onboard killed.
The investigation concluded that pilot error was the cause of the crash. The pilots decided to abort the takeoff attempt after using up two-thirds of the runway. This was due to sudden windshear and uncertainty about the suitable conditions for takeoff. This decision came too late and the aircraft failed to stop before overrunning the end of the runway.
Eastern Air Lines Flight 605
Eastern Air Lines Flight 605 was a flight from Newark International Airport to Miami on May 30th 1947. It departed from Newark without incident, However, around 37 minutes later, the aircraft entered a steep dive and crashed into the ground just to the east of Bainbridge, Maryland. All 49 passengers and four crew onboard the aircraft were killed.
The investigation found that a sudden loss of control leading to a dive was the cause of the crash. But the reasons for the loss of control were not established. Some later reports (although not the official investigation) suggested that a missing hinge bolt leading to the loss of elevator control could have been to blame.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
Two of the worst crashes in US aviation history
These two Douglas DC-4 crashes were the worst at that time in the US. Prior to the United Airlines crash, the most deadly accident to date involved the Hindenburg airship in May 1937. This caught fire while attempting to dock at Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 people.
Unfortunately, there have been many worse accidents since 1947 as well. A further Douglas DC-4 crash in November 1949 killed 55 people (Eastern Air Lines Flight 537 crashed on landing in Washington DC after a flight from Boston) and took over the record for the most deadly crash. The worst crash up to today in the US is American Airlines Flight 191, which occurred on May 25th 1979. This involved an American Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flying from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Los Angeles International (LAX), which crashed just after takeoff after an engine became detached. 273 people were killed.
These were both terrible accidents with causes that could have been avoided. Feel free to discuss these incidents further or any other US aircraft accidents in the comments.